Imanol Alguacil’s Real Sociedad tighten their grip on the fourth spot with a win over Real Madrid
Real Sociedad were on the road last week for the midweek Matchday 31 and the weekend Matchday 32 and they ultimately returned to San Sebastián with four very important points in the bag. The Basque side visited one of their direct rivals for Champions League qualification, Real Betis, last Tuesday and earned an important and impressive 0-0 draw, before travelling to Pamplona to take on Jagoba Arrasate’s tough CA Osasuna side on Friday, earning a 2-0 victory.
As if that wasn’t enough, Alguacil’s side this week extended their good run of form with a win over reigning champions Real Madrid, no less. Goals from Take Kubo and Ander Barrenetxea handed all three points to La Real at the Reale Arenam a result which sees them cement their hold on the fourth and final Champions League spot.
As such, Real Sociedad has earned the right to dream of a return to the Champions League. Since the European Cup became the Champions League in 1992, the team from the north of Spain have only entered European football’s top competition twice, in 2003/04 and in 2013/14. They want to keep up that run of qualifying for the tournament every decade by reaching the 2023/24 group stage.
When Real Sociedad qualified last time, they also did so by finishing fourth in LaLiga Santander, with FC Barcelona top, Real Madrid second and Atlético de Madrid third.
Back then, there was a need to navigate a qualifying playoff and Antoine Griezmann and Carlos Vela put Lyon to the sword, leading the Spanish side to a 4-0 aggregate victory. For many Real Sociedad fans, that remains an all-time highlight of supporting the club and it’s common to see fans on the streets of San Sebastián donning the black away shirt that Griezmann was wearing when he scored his spectacular bicycle kick in Lyon.
The current Real Sociedad squad is very different. In fact, there isn’t a single member who is still at the Reale Arena. Yet, Imanol Alguacil’s 2022/23 squad is just as impressive to watch. In defence, Igor Zubeldia and Robin Le Normand have formed one of the best central defensive partnerships in LaLiga Santander, with the team conceding the third-fewest goals in the division at a rate of just 0.91 per 90 minutes. In midfield, the 24-year-old Martín Zubimendi has had his best season yet and has formed a dominant duo alongside Mikel Merino.
Up front, Real Sociedad has put together an impressive collection of creative players in Takefusa Kubo, Davis Silva, Brais Méndez and Mikel Oyarzabal, all of whom know how to dribble and pass and get the ball to centre-forward Alexander Sørloth. Making all the pieces of the puzzle fit together is Imanol Alguacil, the coach who knows Real Sociedad inside-out, having also been a player and youth coach.
It also helps that the majority of this Real Sociedad squad has come through the youth academy at Zubieta, many of them with Imanol. There are 16 academy graduates in the current first-team squad and they know exactly how La Real want to play, as well as understand how special a return to the Champions League would be since they experienced the last participation as young fans of the club.
Even the non-academy graduates realise that Real Sociedad is on the verge of something historic, players such as Japan international Takefusa Kubo. After scoring the second goal of the team’s 2-0 win at CA Osasuna, Kubo stated: “I think we need to go one game at a time, but with the performance we are producing especially this one, we have the right to dream. The fans are dreaming and so are we. We have to take it one game at a time, but I think it’s getting closer and closer. We know that we have six matches remaining and we’ll play these matches with our bodies, but also with our hearts.”